With union contract expiring, Freightliner workers rally to keep jobs here
CLEVELAND — Several hundred employees rallied Tuesday afternoon in front of the Freightliner plant in Cleveland to support their union’s contract negotiations.
The workers lined the edge of U.S. Highway 70, holding up signs saying “Support American labor,” “Build in America, rebuild America” and “Sell them here, build them here.” Passing cars occasionally honked their horns in support.
The union contract expires Friday.
Corey Hill, president of the United Auto Workers chapter that represents Freightliner employees, is involved in negotiations for a new contract. He said union members are hoping to increase the guaranteed build rate at the plant. This means more trucks would be built in Cleveland, keeping more workers in their jobs and more money in the local economy.
“We want to keep as many builds in North Carolina as possible and keep as many people working in Cleveland as possible,” Hill said. “The most important thing for us is to have a secure future for that plant to be here. I think that plant is important to Rowan County.”
Not only does the community receive Freightliner’s property tax revenue, he said, it also benefits from the disposable income of its employees, who pay for goods and services at local businesses.
Of course, being able to hold a steady job also benefits the workers themselves.
“The number one thing on (union) surveys that the membership keeps pushing up is job security,” Hill said. “We have a current build rate of 60 per day, and we’re trying to increase that.”
Many of the employees referred questions back to Hill, but a few spoke generally about their concerns.
“We need work in America. More and more of our jobs are shipped overseas,” said John Hartley. “I’m lucky to have one now.”
A Freightliner plant in Mexico, which opened in 2009, manufactures the same truck that dominates the Cleveland plant’s production.
Ed Blackwell said he was at the rally Tuesday to show solidarity with the union bargaining committee.
“We want to keep our jobs here,” Blackwell said. “I’ve worked here for 20 years.”
In the past several of those years, the plant has experienced a series of layoffs and callbacks. Blackwell said it’s been hard for employees who are called back to adjust to different jobs, but morale is still up, because at least there are jobs to be had.
Daimler Trucks North America, Freightliner’s parent company, announced in March that about 340 people would be laid off from the Cleveland plant on April 8 because of a slowdown in the truck industry. While that’s not exactly good news for employees, it is less than half of the 715 layoffs that Daimler originally announced in January.
Hill said the plant’s workforce still hasn’t recovered from layoffs in previous years, even when employees have been invited to return.